This chapter really hit home for me as it made sense of the through line I’ve been tracing in the ideas of many thinkers I’ve encountered over the past few years. The design theorists, smart city advocates, resource based economists and even transhumanists whose work I’ve encountered all harken back, at least in part, to Buckminster Fuller. Fuller’s notions of the world as an integrated system which only the Comprehensive Designer is suited to interpret grew out of his own ideological and experiential influences. Fuller had seen systems he encountered as highly flawed, such as industrial planning and distribution. In a manner of speaking, his ideal of the Comprehensive Designer blended a sort of pseudo-Marxist redistributive ethic with a Taylorization of processes and protocols throughout systems. The Designer who stands outside it all, discerning the overlapping nodes of systems and data, functions as a Frederick Taylor, assigning microtasks to accomplish the big picture goal efficiently and effectively. Fuller fused this mode of thinking with a passion for technological innovation, which would foster an anticipatory solutionism that would be superior to instruments such as bureaucracy. This easily calls to mind modern disciplines such as project management.
That Stewart Brand and his USCO colleagues would buy into this is unsurprising. Like Brand, Fuller espoused a rejection of institutional hierarchy in favor of integrated systems that took advantage of technological progress for the supposed elevation of state mankind required. This synthesis of technological spoils with liberated consciousness that might save humanity from the very real existential threat of nuclear annihilation, which Brand and his generation grew up constantly reminded of, gave a sense of hope to a group obviously in search of a semi-coherent ideological framework. Fuller’s theories also represented a break from the grim models of cooperativism espoused by the Soviets and perhaps espoused by some of the Communards counterparts on the New Left.
This cultural ethic is fairly clearly infused into the modern tech community, but suborned to capital in way Fuller might not have imagined, though Turner convincingly has made the case that it was always an innovation within capital with its roots in wartime industrial production rather than an outside methodology. Brand continued this trend with the organization of the Whole Earth Catalogue, even as he rejected the trappings of his society.